Edward Hart was born 30 July 1847, the son of William Hart, a Christchurch taxidermist. His father had become interested in natural history as a boy and passed on his skills, and later his business 'William Hart & Son,
Preservers of Birds and Beasts', to his son, Edward. Unlike the cases produced by William which were quite crude by modern standards, Edward's Work was of very high quality and demonstrated his skills in painting and plant modelling.
William had opened his first taxidermy shop, which was situated in Bridge Street, in 1834. Two years before the birth of Edward in 1845, William built a Fusee watch chain factory at West End, an area later known as Bargates. This was one of three major Fusee industries in Christchurch and although taxidermy remained as interest, watch chain manufacture became William's main occupation.
William opened another taxidermy business close to the Fusee Chain factory and presumably the shop in Bridge Street closed. It was around this time that the young Edward Hart started to become interested in taxidermy. 'In 1857 I shot three of these birds and afterwards mounted them, little thinking at the time that this attempt at taxidermy was to be the beginning of making my collection, which has been my fortune to accumulate principally from Hampshire'. Edward worked at William's new premises for several years, learning the art of taxidermy, until he opened his own business at 23 High Street (The Bow House).
As well as preparing animals and birds for local sportsmen, Edward started his own collection. Most of his specimens were taken between 1867 and 1897. In 1866, his collection was large enough to open a museum in 'The Bow House', which is now the Portman Building Society.
Hart's Museum received many visitors, including Sir Robert and Lady Baden-Powell in March 1914. The building was described as 'warm, well-lit and very clean, the ideal of a private museum, every part of which is crowded with rare and beautiful birds.' A chart drawn up by Edward Hart for Bournemouth Corporation gave some indication of the space taken up by the cases. The total length of the bird cases was 270 feet (82 metres) with a height of 10 feet (3 metres). In addition the mammal cases extended another 30 feet (9 metres).
Over the years Hart's Museum grew in size to include 'upwards of 420 cases, containing 1350 specimens of birds, 2000 birds' eggs, 1000 fossils and flint implements, besides sea weeds, ferns, mosses, moths and butterflies and various specimens of horns, skulls, etc., and other interesting articles.' Most of the specimens were procured by Edward himself, and he kept detailed notebooks of where and when he found them. Other specimens were collected by local people, notably Mr. T Pike 'whose friendship I was so long privileged to enjoy.'
In addition to keeping notebooks, Edward took great pride in his work. Many of his cases, in particular the rarities, have backgrounds of local scenes depicting where the birds were shot. In addition to having examples of local bird records, the cases give a glimpse to how Christchurch looked towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The backgrounds were described in 1903 as giving 'semblance of life and reality, and it is difficult sometimes for the spectator to believe that he had not the living bird in its natural surrounds before him.'
Throughout his life, Edward was in close contact with other naturalists and one of his more valuable specimens, the Little Egret, was described by Yarrell (1856) in his History of British Birds - 'This lovely bird, whose name is so familiar on account of its plumage, was shot near the town of Christchurch in 1822 and is one of only three known specimens in England.'
Although ornithology was his main interest, Edward also prepared a number of mammals. These included squirrels, rats, shrews, stoats and dormice, the latter being recorded as 'very numerous between early spring and October.' In common with many taxidermists of the time, Edward occasionally arranged mammals into what he called 'Grotesque Groups', which depicted animals, usually squirrels, in human situations. These dioramas included 'Prize Fight' ( six scenes), 'Leap Frog' and 'The Barber' amongst others.
Although Edward Hart's attitudes to wildlife seem almost barbaric by modern standards, it should be remembered that Victorian naturalists did not access to binoculars or cameras. Often, the only method of identifying specimens was to shoot first and study afterwards. As there were great numbers of wildlife, it seemed inconceivable to Victorian naturalists that they could have any damaging effects on the populations of birds and animals. It is interesting to note that while Edward acknowledged the need for protecting rare birds from extinction, he killed the last pair of Choughs to inhabit the Isle of Wight stating 'Other people were after them, and if I has not added them to the museum somebody else would have got them.'
Unlike many naturalists of his time, Edward came to realise the effects of the increasing numbers of visitors to the area on the local wildlife. He supported Acts of Parliament which prevented shooting during the breeding season and noted ' should game ever come to be left to the tender mercies of the masses, a sorry day it will be for animated nature'. In later years, Edward was able to note the beneficial effects of the Wild Birds Protection Act. 'The finches are undoubtedly increasing in numbers. I have noticed a large addition to the flocks in this district during the last ten years and this I attribute to the Wild Birds Protection Act….'
Despite the popularity of his museum, Edward became increasing disenchanted with the public and bemoaned the surge of visitors from London, complaining '….decency should compel them to leave their brazen-throated gramophone and music hall songs in their own homes, and not intrude on the lonely reaches and quiet creeks of our rivers.' In 1903 Edward offered his entire collection, provided that it remained intact, to Bournemouth Corporation for £4000. He also offered to curate the collection once relocated and to bear the cost of adding specimens and supplying cases once in-situ. The Corporation were keen to acquire the collection to form the nucleus of a Public Natural History Museum for Bournemouth and the neighbourhood.
On the advice of the Natural History Museum, Bournemouth Corporation invited Mr. Edward Gerrard to come and inspect the collection. Unfortunately Edward Gerrard's visit was unannounced and Edward Hart was unable to show him the most valuable pieces of his collection which were housed separately. Despite a low estimate of the value of Hart's collection which did not include 88 cases of birds and animals, Bournemouth Corporation agreed to try and raise the £4000 required by Edward Hart. The Corporation set aside £1700 half of Gerrard's estimate) and started a campaign to raise the remaining £2300. The first list of subscriptions raised £290 with the proviso that if the committee had not reached their target in 6 months, the money would be returned. Although the campaign generated interest both locally and nationally amongst naturalists, the money was not raised and the collection remained unsold.
Shortly before Edward's death in 1928, the collection was offered for sale. Most of the cases were purchased by John Hall of Stafford. For the next few years until his death, Edward Hart corresponded with John Hall, a keen ornithologist, sending batches of bird records to him for checking and answering enquiries regarding some of the cases of birds.
After the death of John Hall, the collection was passed to Stowe School in Buckinghamshire where they remained until 1923. The collection was, by this time, in a sad state of neglect and staff at Leicester Museum took them on for conservation and safe storage. Unfortunately a number of cases were beyond repair and had to be disposed of. In the early 1980's, Stowe School offered the collection for sale and they were purchased by the Horniman Museum, Leicester Museum and Hampshire County Council Museums Service (HCCMS). Twenty two cases were purchased by the latter and chosen, not only as fine examples of taxidermy, but also because the backgrounds show Christchurch at the time the birds were shot.
In addition to the twenty two cases of Edward's Work, HCCMS also holds examples of specimens prepared by his father, William. Although William's work is not of the quality produced by Edward, they still represent good examples of early 19th century taxidermy.
Curator of Natural Sciences
Frost, Christopher C: 1987: A History of British Taxidermy: Christopher C Frost
The Bournemouth Graphic: April 1903
Tucker and Son: c1910: The Borough Guide to Christchurch
Yarrell, W: 1856: A History of British Birds
Lesser Grey Shrike, Lanius minor
Shot by S Head, Poors Common, Bransgore, Hampshire on 2 June 1900. Prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1900.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.7
Collared Pratincole, Glareola pratincola
Adult male, shot by Lieut. H Henn, near Hurst Point, Barton, New Milton, Hampshire. Prepared by Edward Hart, Christchurch, Dorset, 1857.
Hart's catalogue states this is 'a rare straggler from Southern Europe. Barton, Nr Christchurch. 1857. Lieut. Henn'
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.3.
Cream-coloured Courser, Cursorius cursor
Cream-coloured Coursers are desert birds which occasionally find their way to Northern Europe. This bird was shot in 1845 at Sopley by a shepherd employed by Mr W Tice. The background shows a wet heath land typical to the north of Christchurch with the Purbeck Hills in the background.
Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: "A scarce straggler to England, shot at Sopley, 1845, by a Shepherd in the employ of Mr W Tice."
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.11
Greenfinches, Carduelis chloris
1 yellow variety, 1 female, 1 male, and 1 pied variety with nest and clutch of 5 eggs, shot and collected by Edward Hart at Port Field, Christchurch, between 1873 and 1912. Prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1912.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.13
White-winged Black Terns, Chlidonias leucopterus
2 male and 1 female, shot by Edward Hart on the River Avon, Avon Tyrell, Sopley, Hampshire, May 1883 and May 1886. The painted background shows Tyrell's Ford, Sopley. Prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1886.
Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue 'Quite common, and might have been breeding in the area. The View is of Tyrell's Ford where the slayer of the Red King crossed, and in the village on the right, he stayed his flight to have his horses hooves reversed so the the King's soldiers were baffled in their pursuit, and in memory of this deed, the smithy still pays a yearly fine to the Crown.'
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.12
Tree Pipits, Anthus trivialis
1 adult male, 1 adult female with nest and a clutch of 6 eggs, collected and shot by Edward Hart at St Catherine's Hill, Christchurch, 1862. Prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1862
Extract from Edward Hart's catalogue 'A common summer visitor to the wooded districts. M F June, 1862'
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.14
Little Crakes, Porzana parva
1 adult male and 1 adult female. The female was shot by Edward Hart at Burton Meadows, Burton, Dorset, 1866 and the male was caught by a navvy at Redcliffe, Burton Meadows, Burton, Christchurch, Dorset 18 May 1885. Prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1880s.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.19
American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
Shot by Mr Bran, Keyhaven Marshes, Lymington, Lymington and Pennington, Hampshire, January 1876 and thought to be originally prepared by Francis Edwards. Remounted and prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, 1876.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.9
Red-footed Falcons, Falco vesperitinus
1 male and 1 female. The male bird was shot by Mr Dene at Parley, Dorset, 1854 and prepared by Irany, Heron Court, Hurn, Dorset. The female bird was shot by Mr Brewer or Edward Hart at Tuckton, Christchurch, Dorset, 16 May 1882, prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorse. The was case prepared by Edward Hart, Bow House, High Street, Christchurch, Dorset, about 1880s.
Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue 'A rare visitor. M, Parley.
Accession no HMCMS:Bi1983.2.8
House Martins, Delichon urbica
House Martins with a nest demonstrating the modelling skill of the taxidermist. The background shows features of Wick and Holdenhurst, both villages in the Christchurch area.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.Bi1983.2.6
Alpine Accentor, Prunella collaris
This specimen, which is the only record for the area, was shot by W Humby in 1885. The background show the Constable's House in Bridge Street, Christchurch, where the bird was found. Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: "An Accidental visitor from the mountainous districts of Southern Europe, was shot in the old Castle Gardens by W Humby, 1885"
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.1
Pied Flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca
A species that is rarely seen in Christchurch. The background of this case shows Mudeford Quay.
Accession no HMCMS:Bi1983.2.
Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides
A northern species which occasionally wanders south from the Arctic. This specimen was shot by Edward Hart at Mudeford on New Year's Eve, 1874. Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: "A scarce winter visitor, more irregular than the last, Dec 1874".
Accession no HMCMS:Bi1983.2.4
Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargu
These two male and female birds were shot by Edward Hart in 1893 at Merrytown Common, which is illustrated in the background. Montagu's Harriers are only occasionally sighted in the area today.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.5
Avocets, Recurvirostra avosetta
Today, Avocets are rare visitors to Christchurch. They are seen here with Hengistbury Head, Mudeford Quay and Mudeford Spit in the background. Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: "An occasional visitor to the harbour. MF (Male & Female) Nov 9th , 1885".
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.10
Sabine's Gull, Larus sabini
Sabine's gulls are Arctic birds and occasionally visit the British Coasts. This specimen, which is a juvenile, was shot in Christchurch Harbour by Edward Hart on 26th September 1896.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.15
Little Bittern, Ixobrychus minutus
This case possibly represents the only time that Little Bitterns have attempted to nest in Christchurch Harbour. The nest was found in the large reed bed of Claypool, Christchurch Harbour, by T M Pike who presented the adults, chicks and nest to Edward Hart on 5th June, 1869.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.16
Short-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus griseus
Only three authentic British specimens of Short-billed Dowitcher exist. These rare American waders were shot on sand dunes in Christchurch Harbour by "Dapper" Call, who named them Red-breasted Sandpipers. It was some time before Edward Hart realised the mistake. There is some controversy regarding the authenticity of these specimens. The plumage doesn't match the autumnal time of year when "Dapper" Call shot them (September, 1872 and October, 1902).
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.17
Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea
Curlew Sandpipers are fairly regular visitors to Stanpit Marshes, near Christchurch. In this case are two specimens in Summer plumage and three in Winter. The background shows the extended Mudeford Spit as it was in the 19th century. Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: "Common during autumn and spring. Sept 30th, 1873, winter plumage, summer plumage, May 2nd, 1872, Aug 6th, 1883."
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.18
Shelduck, Tadorna tadorna
A 'family' group of a species commonly found in Christchurch Harbour today. The adults were shot in March 1867 and the chicks were taken three months later. The case background shows the south side of Hengistbury Head.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.20
Spotted Crake, Porzana porzana
The birds making up this 'family' were taken between 1876 and 1882. Very few, if any, Spotted Crakes have successfully reared young in the area since. The background showing the view from Burton Meadows, near Christchurch, is impossible today owing to building development.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.21
Turnstone, Arenaria interpres
Five adult Turnstones, three birds in Summer plumage and two in Winter, on a reconstructed sand dune. Today most of the sand dunes in the area are covered with beach huts. The background shows Stanpit Marshes with Christchurch Priory in the distance. Extract from Edward Hart's Catalogue: " A common autumn and spring visitor. M [Male] May 21st, 1866, Aug 2nd, 1873. May 7th, 1878. Sep 6th, 1882.
Accession No: HMCMS:Bi1983.2.22